Hidalgo v. Arizona and Non-Narrowing Challenges

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Sam Kamin is the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

Justin Marceau is a Professor of Law and the Brooks Institute Faculty Research Scholar of Animal Law and Policy at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

On March 23, 2020, Colorado repealed its death penalty statute for all crimes committed after July 1, 2020. Prior to this repeal, the two of us, along with other researchers, conducted a multi-year empirical investigation of the extent to which Colorado’s death penalty statute complied with the Eighth Amendment requirement of statutory narrowing. Litigants introduced our study in support of more than a dozen non-narrowing challenges to the Colorado statute, and we testified regarding what we believe was the failure of Colorado’s statute to do the narrowing work required by the Constitution. In this article, we build on this experience to discuss how a Hidalgo claim can best be framed in other state courts for eventual adjudication in the United States Supreme Court. Obviously, what is needed is a robust empirical study demonstrating that the discretion and arbitrariness that concerned the Furman Court remain present in a state’s modern capital punishment statute. But more than that, we discuss here how to structure lower court litigation of capital studies so as to foreground legal issues and to keep the focus on the relevant constitutional law rather than the credibility or motivations of the researchers.

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